Marcelo Paganini -
Identity Crisis

(CD 2020, 38:09, Private Release)

The tracks:
  1- Bacteria(8:22)
  2- Circus Is Empty(5:36)
  3- Soul Much Further Away(4:48)
  4- Learn To Love To Wait(7:11)
  5- Tangerine Way(7:13)
  6- Captain's Face(4:59)

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Paganini... That name evokes spontaneously two associations... The first is the Italian classical composer and virtuoso violinist Niccolò Paganini who lived from 1782 to 1840. His furious style of playing made people suspect that he drew on supernatural powers. One might say that he was the classical equivalent to today's guitar wizards, and it is no wonder that he has inspired and/or been covered by people as Yngwie Malmsteen, Jason Becker, Michael Romeo, Uli Jon Roth and Steve Vai.
The other association is the Swiss hard rock group Paganini, led by singer Marc Paganini. They made a couple of modestly successful albums in the mid/late-1980s and reunited for some more (less successful) albums in the early 2000s. Marc passed away in 2019 meaning that their will be no more from this group.
Turns out that French/Brazilian guitar player Marcelo Paganini is neither of the above. Yes, his guitar play is definitely virtuoso, but not in the neoclassical metal vein of the aforementioned guitarists. Instead, his album Identity Crisis, released in December last year, explores the boundaries and overlaps of progressive rock, jazz-rock, and fusion with a tiny splash of plain jazz. This is Paganini's second album, by the way, after the 2012 Space Traffic Jam which I have not heard yet.

Reading the list of guest musicians on Identity Crisis is quite amazing. The musicians include Billy Sherwood (of a.o. Yes and recently Arc Of Life, on bass and lead vocals), keyboardist Adam Holzman (Steve Wilson Band), Rachel Flowers (vocals, piano, guitar, organ), famous drummers Chad Wackerman (a.o. Frank Zappa Band) and Lenny White (Return To Forever), Jan Dumée (ex guitar player of Focus), Marc Madoré (bass), vocalists Karla Downey and Jamison Smeltz, Damilton Viana on percussion, Esdras Ferreira Nenem on drums and bass player Adriano Campagnani (Beto Guedes Band). Of these, I think the most contributions that leave the largest impression are those of Rachel Flowers who puts a good counterpoint with the female vocals to the male leads. Speaking of the latter, the male leads remind me a bit of a strained John Wetton of King Crimson around 1974.
King Crimson must have been one of the influences and I think regularly of their mid-1970s work when they were closer to jazz-rock than they have been in any of their later reunions/reformations. Another influence is surely jazz-rock legend Allan Holdsworth whose name pops up in the press info.
The sound is mostly very dense and makes me often feel a bit claustrophobic. There is just so much going on with busy guitars, dissonant harmonies (is that a possibility at all?) and a lot of tension. The odd break-out into jazz, or the sparse breathers, are really a relief. Take opener Bacteria as an example. It starts gentle, but quickly launches into this complex and dense prog-jazz amalgam that leaves you no rest and it is really hard to settle in.

My clear favourite on the CD is Tangerine Way which is a rather gentle and very symphonic piece. This is, together with opener Bacteria, perhaps also the best track to start exploring the album with. If you are someone who loves his (or her) prog best in a symphonic, melodic, or bombastic way, you may give up soon after that. However, if you love the more complex and dissonant stuff with room for improvisation, this is surely for you. I, myself, am still somewhere in the middle, needing the album to grow on me.

*** Carsten Busch (edited by Tracy van Os van den Abeelen)

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